In the past few decades, private schools have mushroomed across the country. These schools come in all shapes and sizes and the quality of education they offer is equally varied. Where a few schools cater strictly to the urban elite population, the majority of private schools across the country cater to the middle and lower-middle classes. Even as fees in private schools are extortionately higher than in public schools, parents are increasingly opting for private school educations for their kids.
The idea that paying higher fees guarantees a better education has proliferated society and education has morphed into a class issue. Perhaps in order to address this, the Supreme Court last year ruled that private schools could not hike their fees every year, only once every three years.
However, the Private and Boarding Schools Association of Nepal alliance has flouted that order and up to a 10 percent increase in tuition fees has been declared in private schools across the country. The intention of the SC order was most likely an attempt to bridge the gap, economically, between a private and public education. However, simply placing a ban on fee hikes will not suffice.
The increase in the number of private schools has naturally taken a toll on public education, with 33 state schools closing down in the Kathmandu Valley alone in the past two years. Simply put, state schools are unable to compete with private sector counterparts.
It is not always the case that private schools offer a better education but that the quality of education at state-run schools has been branded substandard. Since private schools are marketed better, most parents are keen to do whatever they can to ensure that their kids aren’t subjected to an ‘inferior’ government education.
The situation is symptomatic of government policies in the past, dating back to the first few governments after 1990, that encouraged more private and boarding schools to open instead of improving the quality of education and image-building at public schools. More recently, the government seems to have come to a realisation concerning the ills of a huge private school industry. However, instead of prompting an attempt to increase the quality of education and better the public perception of state schools, that awareness has been channeled into efforts at curbing private school activity.
Policies directed at improving the quality of teaching and developing an environment of accountability would be a good place for the government to begin. Many public school teachers, in fact, take second jobs at private schools, proving that motivation and accountability are crucial in determining teacher satisfaction, student satisfaction and the overall quality of education.
When there is little incentive and accountability for teachers, students at state-schools are quick to internalise the fact that their education is not on par with others, further damaging the reputation of such schools. The state needs urgently to focus on improving the existing government school set-up, not on restricting the activity of private schools.